Archives For Injuries

Life after Ricky

Benjamin Polk —  March 12, 2012 — 2 Comments

Ricky, we already miss you. Its hard to tell if Saturday’s performance against the Hornets was simply the product of an emotional hangover or if its simply what we can expect from the post-Ricky Wolves. Either way, it was an unlovely melange of poor shot selection, stagnant ball-movement and listless, unaware defense. As Rick Adelman put it afterwards, (via Kent Youngblood at the Strib) “I thought maybe it was the worst game in a long time defensively for us. No communication, ball-watching, not playing as a team.” True that.

It’s an ominous moment for your Timberwolves. Rick Adelman’s arrival notwithstanding, it often seemed that the only thing standing between this year’s Wolves and the gauzy nightmare of the Wittman/McHale/Rambis era was the floppy-haired Catalan hope machine.  Without him, things feel a little scary.

By way of providing solace, Truehoop points out that, despite the surplus of charming smiles, warm feelings and ecstatic moments, Rubio had hardly transformed the Wolves into a titan of offensive efficiency. Last season, the Wolves scored 101.1 points per 100 possessions, this year they’re scoring 101.5 pts/100. Because of this season’s league-wide, lockout-induced offensive tumble, that number is good for 14th in the NBA, but the point remains. What’s more, according to 82games, the Wolves offense was exactly as efficient with him on the floor as off. On the other hand, it seemed clear on Saturday that without Rubio’s probing ballhandling and preternatural vision, there were fewer open shooters, fewer rhythmic spot up jumpers.

On the other other hand, as we’ve already discussed, Rubio was probably even more integral to the Wolves’ defensive renewal. The team was 3.3 points/100 possessions better defensively when he was on the floor this season. The lack of Ricky’s ability to create turnovers, disrupt the pick-and-roll game and conjure frenzied defensive energy was painfully evident against New Orleans.

So how does this affect the Wolves’ decision-making moving forward? Well, as Jerry Zgoda pointed out to ESPN, this probably means the team won’t be looking to move Luke Ridnour, the only Wolf left with any natural-born ball-distribution skills, not to mention their best perimeter scorer,  any time soon. And most observers seem to agree that, short of possibly moving Mike Beasley for a draft-pick (would any vampires in the audience care to glamour the Nets into parting with their first-round pick?), the Wolves are best served by standing pat. After all, their long-term needs are still most glaringly at shooting guard and in the middle. Here’s how Zach put it in his most recent 5-on-5 appearance:

I’ll say no move for the backcourt is necessary right now. Ridnour has been one of the more unheralded role players this season and is capable of keeping Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love scoring at high clips. The key will be getting Barea healthy and seeing if Malcolm Lee can provide a spark. Now, if they want to go after Pau Gasol to add elite size, that’s a much better plan to me.

Which, yes, agreed. But can you see any combination of Timberwolves short of Kevin Love or Ricky himself that could entice the Lakers into moving Gasol? Well I can’t.

After all, Rubio’s most significant contribution, as attested to by the recent outpouring of Twitter love, was spiritual. And it was that loss–the way he made us feel, the way he inspired his teammates to play–that was felt most acutely on Saturday.

Malcolm Lee’s pro career has gotten off to a bummer of a start. From the Timberwolves:

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Malcolm Lee underwent successful surgery this morning to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. Timberwolves team orthopedic surgeon Dr. David Fischer performed the surgery at TRIA Orthopaedic Center. The typical recovery time for this type of injury is approximately six weeks. 


From the Wolves:

The Minnesota Timberwolves announced today that guard Martell Webster is out indefinitely as he recovers from microdiscectomy surgery that was performed on Sept. 28. Webster is currently undergoing further evaluation by the Timberwolves medical staff.

“Out indefinitely” is such an ominous phrase. Whatever that means, considering how immobile Webster was after his surgery last year, the Wolves will definitely be thin at the two guard position this year. As Zach pointed out, for all of the optimism, the Wolves still don’t have a single proven perimeter scorer or defender on their roster. Arron Afflalo sure would be nice.

The title speaks for itself.

These seem to be the options lately for whenever Michael Beasley catches the ball on the perimeter.

There’s been another entry into the Wolves revolving door of injuries. As Martell Webster and Jonny Flynn make their way back from the mend, down goes Tolliver.

Our friend Ray Richardson from the Star Tribune breaks the bad news.

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Tolliver will miss the next 6-8 weeks to recover from a knee injury he suffered in Friday night’s game at San Antonio.

Tolliver, signed by the Timberwolves as a free agent in August, had an MRI on Sunday that revealed a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee. A Timberwolves spokesperson said the 6-foot-8 Tolliver will not require surgery.

As much as we’ll miss Tolliver’s stellar help defense-and we undoubtedly will-I’m still looking forward to more of this smiling mug on the front line.

As has been long-rumored, Jonny Flynn will put in a rehab stint with the Sioux Falls Skyforce. Flynn will most likely play in both games of the Skyforce’s weekend back-to-back against the Reno Bighorns and the Iowa Energy. Both of those names are amazing.

Here is Flynn’s response, according to Jerry Zgoda at the Star-Tribune: “I had to go back. I couldn’t miss that Sioux Falls trip. I got to go back.” Boy, coming from anyone but the preternaturally cheerful, entirely sincere Jonny Flynn that sure would sound like sarcasm.

Zgoda also says that “if all goes well, he could play his first NBA game next week.” Things really are going to look different when that happens, aren’t they?

Lost in the the euphoria over Kevin Love’s 31-31 game and the Wolves’ recent two-game winning streak, plus the carnival of horrors that preceded all of this has been the fact that the Wolves have been fairly well carved up by injuries. Because of mostly solid work by Sebastian Telfair, Luke Ridnour and Wesley Johnson, the absence of folks like Jonny Flynn and Martell Webster hasn’t had had an obvious impact. (Although, two things: first, this team is 30th in offensive efficiency and 23rd in defensive efficiency so it’s not like things have been humming along without a hitch. Second, I suspect we’ll only understand the full importance of Webster’s loss after he returns.) But the real impact of these injuries hasn’t been on the starting lineup; its been a huge loss of depth on the bench.

Deep Tracks

To wit: earlier in the year I speculated about this hypothetical second unit: Ridnour, Johnson, Corey Brewer, Anthony Tolliver and Nikola Pekovic. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? But because of the aforementioned injuries, plus bumps suffered by Ridnour, Pekovic and Wayne Ellington, the Wolves sported this illustrious fivesome in the first half of Sunday’s game in Atlanta: Brewer and Tolliver with Lazar Hayward, Sundiata Gaines and Kosta Koufos. Now, that would be a pretty wicked D-League starting five but it seemed like maybe not a coincidence that the Hawks managed a 21-8 run in the first half, while the Wolves’ starters rested.

The Wolves played energetic, competitive basketball for the rest of the game–they shot 47.4% and played committed defense–but  never really recovered from that first half swoon. And there’s a pretty solid reason why. A short while back I commented that when things were going well, the Wolves offense had a certain wild charm. But ok, to be honest, this wildness–a tendency to mishandle the ball, to make passes to nowhere–is mostly not charming at all. Mostly its just really aggravating. Telfair, Love and Michael Beasley had 15 turnovers between them and this carelessness repeatedly prevented the Wolves from making inroads into the Hawks’ lead.

Dark Night of the Soul

You know what else prevented that? The fact that Darko Milicic is still totally lost in the wilderness. It seems hardly possible that a 25-year-old athlete in perfect health could actually look haggard, but Darko does. His dreadful lack of confidence, his “disgust” with himself (his words), is written all over his wan face and embodied in his slumped shoulders and timid play. Darko’s line on Sunday is pretty bleak: 1-7 shooting for two points; two boards; three blocks; two assists; two turnovers.

Even the lone bright spot–those three blocks–belie the reality of the situation. Darko couldn’t stay with Al Horford who scored the majority of his 28 points (on 9-14 from the field, 10-10 from the line) against the big Serb. Darko couldn’t keep Horford away from the hoop when he faced the basket; he couldn’t recover quickly enough on pick-and-rolls to deter easy layups; he couldn’t keep Horford off of the glass or challenge Horford’s jumper.  Horford is the shorter guy by at least four inches but he got his shot pretty much whenever he wanted.

Even so, as those stats show, Darko’s real damage was on the offensive end. The profile for this 1-7 nightmare is pretty familiar. Darko performs epic low-post contortions in the service of terrible, awkward shots–an off-balance twelve-foot skyhook and a ginger baseline reverse (one bricked, the other rejected) are pretty typical–and then blows the easy looks he does get.

But this isn’t even the worst of it. Because the center is generally the fulcrum of the triangle, the offense tends to flow through Darko when he is on the floor. Entering the ball into the post is meant to ignite a flurry of passes and cuts, to set the offense in motion. But Darko’s play has been so labored and so indecisive that the Wolves’ offense seems to stagnate whenever he touches the ball, those two assists notwithstanding.

Kurt Rambis appears to recognize this. So in the third quarter he began running the offense through Kevin Love (who finished with only 22 points and 17 boards–weak) on the weakside post, leaving Darko to languish  out of the play. Finally, with 2:18 remaining in the third quarter he replaced Darko entirely, bringing in Anthony Tolliver and moving Love over to center, as he did against the Knicks on Friday. Love is certainly no natural “5″, but the offense suddenly began to hum and the defensive energy increased palpably. The Wolves put together their best stretch of play, outscoring the Hawks 39-30 the rest of the way.

Things could get better for Darko Milicic. His shot could start falling. And this could energize the rest of his game, give him the heart to pursue the ball and defend with some guts. But when, in his NBA career, has this ever happened? We have to begin wondering, 11 games into his four year deal, if these disastrous crises of confidence are not a definitive element of Darko’s on-court self.

Photo by Herby_fr

  • Bad enough to have surgery this morning apparently, says a Wolves’ press release. The surgery is called a microdiscectomy. This means it is a small discectomy (never even been to medical school!) The release goes on to tell us that “no timetable for Webster’s return has been established, but the typical recovery time for this procedure is 4-6 weeks.” This is kind of a bummer, by the way.

Photo by Nottie Cabirian

According to the Timberwolves, Jonny Flynn had successful hip surgery on Tuesday morning. Here’s the press release in its entirety, you lucky people:

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jonny Flynn underwent successful surgery this morning for a labral tear repair and removal of extra bone to his left hip. The procedure was performed by Dr. Marc Philippon of The Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colo. The typical recovery time for this type of injury is three to four months. “We expect Jonny to make a full recovery from this procedure,” said David Kahn, Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations. “In the meantime, Dr. Philippon and our medical staff will work together to provide Jonny all the resources necessary to make his recovery as speedy as possible.” In his 81 appearances during the 2009-10 NBA season, Flynn averaged 13.5 points, 2.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game.

Uh oh. Looks like Jonny Flynn and my grandma have something in common – a bad hip.

So Jonny is going to be sidelined for quite some time. If the early prognosis from Dr. Spears and his sources is correct then a surgery next week and a three to four-month recovery time would have Flynn missing the first month of the NBA season and maybe more.

While this bodes well for the playing time of newly signed Luke Ridnour, it puts a big question mark at the backup point guard position for the Wolves.

The question isn’t who will pick up the backup point guard position. That will go to the newly reacquired Sebastian Telfair.

I’m more curious about what Bassy can bring back to this team after having a very underwhelming six seasons to start his NBA career. The curious thing about Telfair is he’s only 25 years old. If some Wolves fans are going to give Darko a pass all day because he’s still just 25 years old, I guess we have to give the benefit of the doubt to the kid from Coney Island who is just 11 days older than the Serbian Gangster.

When Bassy was repping ‘Sota, he actually wasn’t all that bad. He had his two best seasons of his career (assuming we don’t consider his four games with the Cavs last year as a complete entity… sorry, John Krolik) at the Target Center when he started the majority of the games he played as a Wolf and distributed the ball very well. The problem with Bassy is the lightning quickness with the ball that made him a YouTube and mixtape sensation doesn’t really work in the NBA. Watch this video:

Fun, right?

Well how many times do you see listless defense with players in the wrong spot and not reacting properly to ball movement in the NBA? I mean other than what the Wolves did last season.

That’s the problem with Sebastian Telfair. He’s great against mediocre competition. Put him in the league with guys that are as quick as him (or quick enough to use their size advantage to neutralize his first step) and he’s all of a sudden at a big disadvantage. The way you can change this and open up the floor for him is by putting Bassy in an up-tempo system that allows him to get into big spaces and get creative with the basketball.

Telfair has never really played for a fast team before. The fastest paced team he’s ever really played for was the ’06-’07 Boston Celtics. That tanking Celtics team was 12th in the league in pace at 92 possessions per game (last year’s Clippers team averaged 92.6 possessions per game but he never really got consistent minutes with them). Last year’s Wolves were third in the NBA in pace with a staggering 96.1 possessions per. That’s something that should be somewhat alluring for this current situation.

The Wolves aren’t going to need his services consistently for the majority of the season if Flynn can come back healthy. They just need him to be a steady hand that creates for his teammates during the initial months of the regular season. They need him to back up Ridnour (there’s something I never thought I’d say about this team) for roughly 20-25 minutes per game and not screw things up worse than they already are.

Yes, it would be nice to have Ramon Sessions as the backup to Luke Ridnour to start the season but that trade to send him and Hollins packing for Telfair and 1/9 of Delonte West’s unguaranteed contract was something that needed to get done. Instead, the Wolves get to be a little thinner in the backcourt to start the season but set up better for the future.

For now let’s start making Get Well Soon cards for Jonny Flynn and hope his hip heals better than my grandma’s did.